Sunday afternoon, the Twins played the Royals. The Twins won 4-3 in a forgettable game with one unforgettable moment: DH Jim Thome absolutely unloading on a Felipe Paulino slider for a three-run dingdong. Home runs aren't always interesting - there are several thousand of them hit every season - but Thome's was a showstopper, and it deserves to be discussed and analyzed in-depth. Which is what I'm going to do.
This feature was somewhat inspired by Sam Miller's weekly Annotated Box Scores. This is not an annotated box score, but the format is along the same vein, so here's a tip of the cap to one of my favorite baseball writers. You should all be sure to read Sam Miller, after you're done reading us.
The home run was number 596 of Jim Thome's career, which began on September 4, 1991. Other participants in Thome's big-league debut: Dan Gladden, Mike Pagliarulo, Carl Willis, and a 25 year old Albert Belle. Thome's pursuit of 600 home runs hasn't drawn the same level of attention as Derek Jeter's pursuit of 3,000 hits, and there are good reasons for this. For one, 3,000 is a much bigger number than 600. For two, Derek Jeter is an icon. For three, Jeter has played with the same team his whole life. For four, hits are accumulated at a much steadier pace than home runs. And so on. But at the end of the day, while 28 different players have reached 3,000 hits, Thome should become just the eighth player to reach 600 home runs. Of the two amazing achievements, Thome's will be the more impressive, and the moment will provide an opportunity to reflect on the outstanding career of one of baseball's best players and people.
Thome has as many career home runs as Bobby Bonilla and Edgar Martinez combined.
The Twins estimated the distance at 490 feet, the longest homer on record at Target Field.
Target Field opened in 2010. The longest home run hit there last season was 448 feet, by Brennan Boesch. The longest home run hit there this season, before Sunday, was 454 feet, by Jim Thome. So even if the Twins' 490-foot estimate is a little inflated, it would have to drop an awful long way for Thome's blast to not be the longest hit in the stadium.
The longest home run overall this season was 485 feet, by Josh Hamilton against Roy Oswalt. The longest home run of Thome's career during the Hit Tracker era - dating back to 2006 - was 471 feet, off Luke Hochevar in 2008. Thome may very well have surpassed that, as a 41 year old.
One of the interesting things in the age of free agency and rampant player movement is that fans now will fall in love with players who haven't been on their team very long, and who may have previously played for a rival. Twins fans are all about Jim Thome, as we'd expect them to be - he's a great hitter and an awesome dude, who's made a positive contribution while wearing the uniform. But Jim Thome had a pre-Minnesota career, and during that career, he was awful mean to Minnesota.
Thome has made 58 percent of his career plate appearances as a Cleveland Indian, and another 22 percent as a Chicago White Sox. During that time, he hit 57 home runs against the Twins - 11 in 2002 alone - with a 1.038 OPS. Of the 24 teams against which he's batted at least 100 times, that 1.038 is his fourth-highest mark. In the past, Thome has made a lot of Twins fans sad, but all that is forgotten now that he's signed over his loyalty.
It could be worse, though. In 131 plate appearances against the Cardinals, Thome has batted .430, with a .565 OBP and a 1.010 slugging percentage. Stan Musial had a career .417 OBP and .559 SLG.
Baseball, as they say, is a game of inches. Paulino faced Thome with two on and two out in the sixth inning of a 1-1 game. The count ran full, and Paulino and catcher Matt Treanor conspired to give Thome a backdoor slider:
This is what Thome got instead:
Rather than a slider that just clipped the outer edge of the zone, Paulino gave Thome a thigh-high slider on the inner half. The former is a good pitch to a powerful lefty. The latter is a terrible pitch to a powerful lefty. Command is important.
(5) Reaction .gifs
Presented in ascending order of awesomeness:
Thome: /hits home run
Thome: /hits home run
Treanor: AW DANG IT
Thome: /hits home run
I have watched the third .gif at least 50 times so far today. It only gets funnier. You'll see.
(6) Reaction screenshot
The flight path of a majestic home run is impressive enough, but I think what really puts something like this over the top is when the outfielders begin to converge and then just surrender to watch the ball like everybody else. Three seconds after Thome's dinger left the bat:
For a brief moment on a Sunday afternoon, Jim Thome made everyone a spectator.